NYC Psychotherapist Blog

power by WikipediaMindmap

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Are You "Keeping Busy" to Avoid Painful Emotions?

People often try to avoid experiencing painful emotions by constantly "keeping busy."  To suppress their sadness, anger or other uncomfortable emotions, they keep themselves in a state of constant distraction.

Are You "Keeping Busy" to Avoid Painful Emotions?

The amount of emotional and physical energy that it takes to stay on the go and suppress these uncomfortable feelings can be enough to exhaust anyone.  And, in the end, it serves no real purpose, except as a delaying tactic.  In the end, these emotions remain in the body, and they can manifest in a compromised immune system and, possibly, illness.

Well-meaning friends and family members sometimes give unhelpful advice
Over and over, I hear my psychotherapy clients tell me that their well-meaning friends and family members have advised them to "keep busy," even when the clients begin feeling worse by all this extra activity.  This often goes along with the advice, "Just put it behind you" before the person has had a chance to experience an uncomfortable emotion.

When you're upset, it's easy to think that your natural inclination to take time for yourself is, somehow, "wrong" and your friends and family are right about staying busy.  Then, eventually, when you can't sustain it, you might feel like there's something wrong with you.  

You wonder, "Why can't I do this?"  Well, you can't do it because it's not what you were meant to do in order to take care of yourself.

Feel the emotions, without the need for constant distraction, as part of self care
Whether the emotions are about the death of a spouse, a divorce, the loss of a job or any other unfortunate event, you need to feel your emotions without being made to feel that there is something wrong with you.  

There's no way to avoid painful feelings
Somewhere along the way, as a society determined to pursue life, liberty and the state of happiness, we seemed to have come away thinking that we should never feel any uncomfortable emotions.   

And if we do, these emotions should be stamped out as quickly as possible.  And, yet, when we look at the course of a long life, we can see that it's made up of a combination of joy and pain.  There's no way to avoid it.

When we try to avoid feeling painful emotions, we prolong the pain
When we attempt to avoid feeling painful emotions, we actually end up prolonging the pain rather than just feeling the emotions and, when the time is right, releasing them.  

A friend's experience of trying to avoid feeling the pain
Many years ago, a friend, whose husband left her unexpectedly for another woman, was trying to follow her sister's advice to stay constantly "keeping busy."  (My friend gave me permission to write about her experience because she thought it would be helpful to others.)

Her sister came to my friend's home, dragged her out to dinners and movies.  Whenever my weary friend would ask me about this, I would tell her that I didn't think it was a good idea for her to exhaust herself in this way--that she needed time to herself.  But, after years of accommodating herself to others, she felt that she couldn't let her sister down.  She didn't want to seem ungrateful, so she went along with it.  

A few weeks after the marital separation, her sister wanted to host a dinner party for my friend, hoping to cheer her up.  Once again, my friend asked me what she should do.  Seeing how exhausted and irritated she looked, I asked her what she thought it would be like for her.  

After she thought about it for a few seconds, she broke down in tears.  The pressure felt overwhelming.  She summoned her courage, called her sister and rejected the idea.  

Then, my friend went home and, for the first time since her husband left her, she cried. Afterwards, she experienced a wave of relief.  Then, a day or so later, the next wave of pain and disbelief about her situation came over her again.  Rather than resist the pain, each time she felt the next wave, she went with it and she released it.  

A week or so later, she began to feel a surge of rage about what her husband did.  She punched pillows.  She yelled.  She cried.  She called to vent, and she allowed herself to release the emotions in a way that felt right for her.  She also used this surge of angry energy to get organized and to hire an attorney to protect her interests. 

After a while, she came to accept that her sadness and anger came in waves and, although it was excruciatingly painful at times, she felt better allowing herself to feel her emotions rather than suppress them.  After several months passed, she was able to look back and notice that her pain was not as great as it had been at the beginning.  

Of course, everyone's experience with painful emotions will be different.  Just know that there's nothing wrong with you if you don't feel like immediately going out dancing after a significant loss.

You don't have to go along with what others think is best for you, and you don't have to run from your feelings.

You don't always have to be engaged in constant activity.  Sometimes, you just need to be still.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. 

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.